AR: Chapter 2

Soraya, the Alchemist

“We narrowly missed the Fiery,” said a girl about nineteen years old, with thick, dark hair that frizzed angrily in a long ponytail. Her bronze skin shined under the June sun like a statue. She kneeled beside a grey wolf on the side of a highway, removing a black duffle bag from her shoulder. The wolf’s grey eyes met her hazel eyes and they stared at one another for a long time. “That means Equinox really wants us. We have to be more careful, Night.”

The dilapidated villa was located deep in the forests near a river. The trail leading up to it from the main road was long gone, hidden under thick bushes. The iron gates were rusted all over. Weeds overrun the gardens. The plants were up to Soraya’s shoulders; Night was impossible to see except for the swaying to and fro. Vines and moss climbed up the Greek-inspired columns. It smelled musty and wreaked of body fluids, and she prepared herself to see a corpse at any moment. It felt as lonely as she would be without Night. Some had long since boarded up the windows, and the uncovered parts were lined with dust. Her “Hello” and “Is anybody here?” were answered with echoes. Had she any other choice, she would have gone elsewhere. The rain was getting heavier and the sky was getting darker. They also could not risk being found again and this place was far from the path and closer and more hospitable than a cave.

Approaching the door, she slid the black duffle bag from her shoulder and sat it on the dusty dark wood porch. Night ran off to scope the rest of the area. She took a deep breath, lunged forward, and delivered a swift kick, snapping the boards that blocked the front door with ease. She pried the rest and a slight shove brought the door squeaking open and she popped her head inside. To her surprise, there was still furniture everywhere.

Pocket knife at the ready, she swung the door wide open and entered the white tile floor hall, taking in the long dead plant on a small table in the corner, the portrait frames and broken glass on the floor of the side hall, the dust and mold everywhere. Night let out a howl off in the distance. The perimeter was clear.

To her right was a large room, its walls covered with shelves and shelves of books. There was one large window, but it, like the rest, was boarded up. There was an overturned desk in the center, but nothing in or around it. She moved across the hall to the other room, with its moldy sofas and worn leather chairs ripped open. The glass coffee table in the center was so covered with dust that it was no longer transparent. The television, once mounted on a wall, had fallen and cracked. She walked through the arch way and saw the dining hall, the chandelier long since fallen and shattered on the large, dusty table. The floors were covered in glass from blown out windows.

Night came running in, and after a brief moment, let loose on a soft howl. The basement was empty. He fled up the stairs and gave a final howl.

Past the dining hall was the kitchen, dusty, cabinets packed with silverware, pots, pans, expensive and fancy china, and expired food. The refrigerator was over turned and lie open, the food long since molded and rotten. She took a step further around the marble island and a rat scurried by her foot. The kitchen led to a back hall full of empty rooms with soiled mattresses lying cut open on the floor. She swept past a bathroom—the plumbing still worked. She opened closets in the hall, containing dusty vacuum cleaners, musty blankets, and clothes that looked as if they were over forty years old. She moved to the basement, nearly flooded with water and plants, boxes and furniture soaked through.

Soraya moved up the mahogany wood staircase and slipped into the room immediately to her right. It looked as if it belonged to a young girl, with a white canopy bed, white sheets stained red with what looked like blood, dolls and toys strewn everywhere, coated in a layer of dusty. The desk was full of drawings—of a yellow and green stick figure holding hands, “Me and Daddy” or a yellow house with a family of five outside it. She left the room and shut the door, examining how the wood was broken in places, as if it had been battered in. The neighboring room was plainer, with a desk full of textbooks about histories and sciences. The mattress had been flipped over and torn. She noticed a small book with a red linen cover and paper that resembled parchment. She flipped through the pages and noticed a thin black cursive script and dated entries. The name on the inside of the cover read ‘Thatcher.’ She moved onto another room covered in pink, with perfumes and lotions and other concoctions knocked over on the chest. Scarves and hats cluttered the top. Drawers were overturned on the floor. On the mirror was a single picture of a teenage girl, a younger girl, and a teenage boy smiling in a sea of people.

She made her stay in the teenage girl’s room, sweeping all of her belongings and shoving them back into the drawers. Though everything was covered in dust, it was neat. At least there was no blood, she assured herself. She trailed back into the basement, swimming through the overflow of water in search of a generator but it did not work. So she took a portable lamp from her duffle bag, sat beside it in the center of the room, hung her wet clothes on the balcony and changed, and opened a book.

Night found her some time later, muzzle tinted with dried blood, and he curled up near her bag. Soraya’s stomach growled and she sat the book aside, rummaging through her bag for anything edible. Fearing the Fiery near, she fled the last small town in too much of a rush to replenish her food supply. She would have to shop in the town downstream when the rain let up. All she had were a few bars of chocolate, a bottle of water, and an apple. As she dug through for the bottle, a pendant, a small velvet sack full of old gold coins, a wavy dagger, and a small glass jar with a floating orb of light inside fell onto the dusty wooden floor. The pendant was a crucifix outlined in sapphire and filled with vines and diamonds. It was ancient and just looking at it made her feel guiltier than it should have. The dagger, called an athame, had the name Jules engraved on the blade. She shoved everything back in the bag with the exception of the jar which rolled away. She grabbed it, gave it a longing look, and carefully sat it inside.

With a bite of the apple, she began her core workout, a muscle-intensive routine that her father taught her long ago. She contemplated putting up a bar for chin-ups, but decided against it and finished her apple before curling up on the floor to doze off…

The village downstream went by the name Tilling and the center was bustling with people who were shopping and teenagers playing and joking with one another. It felt strangely and comfortingly familiar, and so Night gave an angry huff when Soraya said she had to go alone. She breezed by the shops, reading names and staring through windows in the hopes of finding a place that sold food and other travel items. It was particularly hot now and her hair was sticking to the back of her neck. The jacket she wore was tied around her waist and she had managed to leave her duffle bag, for once, at the villa, hidden under a floorboard, under the torn mattress. A woman bumped into her, bowed her head, apologized, and moved on. Then she slipped into a shop—Langston’s Emporium.

A bell rang as the door opened and a tall, thin woman stood behind a cash register in the back. A series of fans were positioned around the shop circulating already warm air, which only made the place stuffier. The walls were covered with shelves and shelves of food and coolers off to one side.

“Hello,” the shopkeep said, giving a polite smile. “Are you from out of town or visiting?”

Soraya raised her head and shrugged. “I’m passing through.” She grabbed several packs of peanut butter cups, chocolate bars, canned vegetables and fruits, instant noodles, graham crackers, a jar of pickles, lighter fluid, a case of water, and a bobble head of some politician whose name she cared little for. She sat them on the counter.

“Where are you going, to be out this far west?”

She hesitated and shook her head, meeting the woman’s watery blue eyes. “Nowhere in particular. Just traveling for the sake of traveling, I guess.”

“Where are you staying for the night?”

Lie, lie, lie… “I found a place far up the road that’s letting me stay there. Out of the village—”

“Oh, the Dallas family is nice. Jeannette’s a sweetheart, isn’t she?” The lady rang up the items. “If it’s no trouble with you, my family’s having a barbecue later. You can always come on down. We love meeting travelers. Tilling loves new people. What’s your name again?”

She shook her head again and pulled a few bills from her pocket. “Melinda, but it’s alright. I get nervous around people. I’m much more comfortable in my room—”

“Oh, nonsense! There will be food and ghost stories. Calgary!”

A boy about eighteen or so emerged from the backroom, brown hair shaggy and overgrown with an expression of exhaustion on his face. He was thin and lanky, dressed in jeans ripped at the knee and a plain white tee shirt. He had the woman’s watery blue eyes and he looked surprised to see Soraya as if young women did not exist in the town. Soraya simply thought he was average. “Yeah?” He turned to his mother.

She gave him the bag. “Follow young…Melinda, here, up to the Dallas home and carry her things. Then pick her up from there for the barbecue tonight.” She turned to Soraya. “Is that alright, dear?”

Soraya very much wanted to say no.

He grabbed the bag, turned on his heels, and headed for the door and Soraya followed. The moment they were outside, she turned to him and reached for the bag. He inched away.

“Can you give me my things? I can carry them myself,” she snapped.

He rolled his eyes as if he had heard this before. “Oh, so you’re one of those girls. Blah blah blah feminism, won’t let a guy do his job because you’re concerned about your character and you don’t want people to think you’re weak and I’m infringing upon your rights because I’m just trying to be polite. Well you know what? I carry men’s bags too, so don’t think you’re special. I’m only doing this because my mother tells me too and it’d be cruel to make you carry this all the way up to the Dallas’ house especially since you had the courtesy to visit and buy a lot of things from my parents’ shop. So shut up and let me hold the bag, will you?”

She blinked and paused for a moment. “I’m not going to that house. I lied, so will you please just—?” She reached for the bag again and he moved away.

He stopped moving and met her eyes seriously. “I’m going to ask you to stop doing that.”

“Doing what?”

“Stop trying to take this bag from me and don’t lie about lying so you can get this.”

She nodded and continued walking. He fell in step with her and just when he got comfortable, she made her move. With a swift spin, she elbowed him in the back of his head and he lurched forward. “OW! What are you—?”

She yanked his arm behind him, grabbed the bag, and sprinted ahead. It was not long before he followed behind her. She froze and turned around, giving him a dangerous look. “Do not follow me.” With that, she slipped in the woods and climbed her way towards the villa, mumbling to herself. After all, she clearly said she did not want him holding her bag or walking her up. What was with pushy people in this town? If a customer says no, they should take it. She does not want to go to the stupid barbecue with the stupid regulars talking about stupid regular things. She had more pressing concerns. Who was that stupid mortal to tell her to shut up? Had she no self-control, she could have burned him alive, turned him to dust, disemboweled him with her bare fingers, or fed him to the Fiery herself.

She slipped inside and climbed the stairs, walking into the third room to the right, resting her bag on the floor while she retrieved her duffle bag from the floor board underneath the mattress. She checked for the jar, sighed in relief, heard, “Whoa!” from downstairs and cursed. He followed her. What, did he stalk everyone who refused his politeness? She grabbed the athame and shut the door behind her, moving down the stairs. There Calgary stood, gawking at the dusty, damaged furniture inside the formerly abandoned villa.

Soraya narrowed her eyes and stood on the top of the stairs. “What the hell are you doing here?”

He gulped and glanced at her, his eyes lingering on the blade in her hand. “Well, I wanted to know why you’re so weird. Most people just shut up and let me hold their bags. You, on the other hand, actually attacked me and then ran into the woods. In my opinion, you were begging to be followed. I would have never guessed you were—”

Get out.”

Instead, he moved towards the study. “Seeing as this isn’t your home, I don’t think you’re in any position to tell me to leave. You’re a squatter. Why are you here? Who are you?”

She grabbed his shoulder, shoved him into the bookcase, and held the dagger out. “I’ve killed before and I don’t mind doing it again. Leave while I’m still giving you the chance.”

He read the dagger instead. “Who is Jules? That’s a funky looking knife.” She gaped, bewildered. Was he stupid? He sighed. “I’ll leave under one condition: you come to my mother’s barbecue. It’s kind of a big deal and she’s nice and I hate to see her upset and she seemed to really like you—”

Then Night entered the room and he screamed. Soraya smirked and looked between them. “Or I can just feed you to him and run into town screaming hysterically about a wolf attack. It’s worked before.” Calgary hesitated. She glanced down at her only companion. “What do you think? Should I go? Do you think we’ll be here a while? Are you hungry for a human-sized snack?” Night turned around and sprinted up the stairs. “You’ve been saved this time. I suggest you bring Night a steak or he may hunt you down himself.” She backed away.

He gaped. “You have a pet wolf?”

Shaking her head, Soraya headed towards the door. “No, he’s not a pet. We are each other’s pack.” He was now looking at her with the same bewildered expression she had given him. “I’m going. I can always use the free food.”

The barbecue took place in a large yard behind a small, country home. Music and fires were everywhere, with people talking and laughing to each other. Hannah Langston, the woman Soraya had met in the shop earlier, stood beside her husband Jeff as he roasted hot dogs, sausages, and chicken. When Soraya approached beside Calgary, Hannah waved and grinned, calling them over and getting the attention of her guests. “This is Melinda. She’s visiting from out of town! Isn’t it wonderful?”

She followed Calgary among the crowds of people, enjoying herself as she weaved lies together. She was from an island. Her father was a dentist and her mother was a homemaker. She had a sister named Jessica who wanted to be a lawyer. They all died in a violent, fiery car accident when she was young and she spent the rest of her time with her grandmother who is vacationing at the moment in the Arctic. She was the dance champion at her old school. She was the swim team captain. Her worst subject in school was Spanish. “I’m not good at speaking different languages,” was her biggest lie because she was fluent in English, Romanian, French, Italian, Spanish, and, her native, Garficain and she spoke conversational Portuguese. The food, homemade, was a rarity that she could not get often because she was in hiding. She ate more than anyone else, and when they marveled at this, she simply smiled and continued with her fifth serving of potato salad.

By the time the barbecue was over, Soraya was relieved that she went. Dodging people and hiding in abandoned houses and shacks or caves made her life lonely. Though she had Night, she missed talking to people and getting a response beyond a growl. As Calgary walked her back up the long, dark road towards the woods, she skipped around.

“Are you really that happy over a barcecue?” He asked.

She shook her head. “No, I’m happy that my ability to lie hasn’t deteriorated. They believed that junk! Ha!” She continued to move along until she heard a rustling in the leaves. Then, she froze. “Was that you?”

Calgary froze as well. “Was what me?”

There was a silence and someone grabbed Soraya, lifting her off of her feet. She let out a shriek and kicked the person in the stomach, stumbling away and preparing to fight. Calgary swung for the stranger but was immediately struck down, and he lay on his back, holding his face and grunting in pain. Night came sprinting out of the woods and snarled. Soraya, on the other hand, relaxed.

The man who had attacked smirked, holding out his arms. He was tall with long ash blond hair that he swept back into a ponytail. He wore formal white blouse with the sleeves rolled up and black pants. His diamond stud earrings sparkled under the street lamps. It was not the hair or the clothes that Soraya recognized, nor the dimples or smile. Instead, it was his eyes, which were frosty green. She leaped into his arms and he spun her around.

“How are you?” She exclaimed.

He sat her down and continued to smile. “Now that I see you, good.” They spoke to each other in Garficain, the language of alchemists.

“What?” Calgary called, still writhing on the ground.

Soraya helped him up and noticed his nose was bleeding. “Uh, this is Jules. We grew up together.”

Jules bowed and extended a hand. “I am sorry about hitting you in the face. It was a reflex.” Calgary swatted away his hand. Jules shifted his attention back to Soraya. “A friend? It’s more to it than that, isn’t it?”

She blinked and her cheeks flushed. “I wasn’t…”

“What?” Calgary asked again. “What language were you speaking? I thought you said you weren’t good with languages! And is this the Jules from the knife?”

Jules laughed in amusement. “We… are Garfiços.”

“What?”

“Garfiçosî… we are a special kind of alchemists.”

Soraya shot Jules a warning look. “Thanks for taking me, Calgary. But I’ve got it from here. Good-bye now.”

He turned away and eased down the road, still clutching his nose. Jules made a reach for Soraya but Night moved in, growling and lowering his body to the ground, prepared to leap. Jules cocked a brow and pointed to the wolf blocking them. “Uh, new friend?”

She nodded and kneeled, stroking Night between his ears. “This is Night. He’s my familiar.”

Night did not relax even slightly, but Jules showed no sign of concern. He smiled nonetheless. “We have a lot to catch up on.”

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